Master's Program Conference Examines Coexistence Field

May 5, 2008

With master's student Isha Wright looking on, Mari Fitzduff, director of the Master's Program in Coexistence and Conflict, speaks during the conference.
 Addressing the emergence of coexistence work as a profession, the Master’s Program in Coexistence and Conflict examined the challenges and future of the field in a conference from April 30 to May 2.

Guest speaker Ambassador Ragnar Angeby, the Programme Director, Conflict Prevention in Practice, Folke Bernadotte Academy in Sweden, set up the first-ever governmental secretariat for conflict prevention. Angeby talked about how his own understanding of the need for a conflict resolution profession had come from his extensive work as a diplomat, as a negotiator in the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe process, and as an analyst in the 1980s of East-West relations and strategic issues, including the nuclear and conventional military balance and disarmament.

The event also featured workshops with current and former master’s students, which included discussions of the issues graduates face in the field, ways to enhance the program, and the tools to bring about more effective coexistence work.

Two panels with representatives from the UN, NGOs, and government also addressed these issues and others. In the first panel, Kaz Kuroda from the Fragile and Conflict-affected Countries Group of the World Bank said that the organization had focused on middle-income countries but was increasingly seeking to help low-income countries, including those that have faced recent upheaval. “What happens in a particular country has global implications that we cannot ignore,” he said.

Anita Ernstorfer, from the Governance and Public Administration Branch of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, spoke about the skills needed to practice coexistence work, including knowledge of conflict resolution, development issues, and languages. She also emphasized the importance of cross-cultural understanding. “Many of these tasks are very difficult and highly politically sensitive,” she said.

Sharon Morris, the director of Mercy Corps, an international aid and development organization, noted the value of working with a broad range of institutions, including the military, with which she worked for a year. She advocated being more experimental in the field, describing, for example, how traditional clan elders were brought together to stem violence in Somalia. “We aren’t exploring all the possible ways we can to tackle natural resource violence,” she said.

From the US State Department’s Office of Stabilization and Reconstruction, Claire Sneed said that government is beginning to understand the need to broaden its perspective on how to address world tensions, including knowledge of communities and culture. “We best achieve our national security interests by looking out for others’ interests,” she said.

Current master's students (from left) Zafar Habib and Torsten Sewing join Mustafa Dualeh, a forthcoming student in the dual Master's Degree in Sustainable International Development and Coexistence and Conflict.
 The following day was dedicated to addressing issues of training and education — the kind of knowledge, skills, and values needed by conflict and coexistence professionals in order to be effective in their work. Joelle Jenny from the Department for International Development in the UK talked about the need for conflict prevention and conflict-sensitive development, the ability to effectively analyze and respond to conflict issues, and understanding organizations and their sensitivity to such issues, as well as an understanding of how to partner with other organizations and with donors. Pamela Aal from the United States Institute of Peace talked about the work of the Institute in Training and Education, which will soon offer training modules on-line to enhance their effectiveness.

Participants agreed that such training was often more effectively developed in conjunction with other areas of expertise such as development or democracy work. They also agreed that, given the recently developed nature of the profession, practitioners should find effective ways of continuing their learning while out in the field. And they also emphasized that all those who graduated in coexistence work should market the field and their professional skills.